Colorado police officer who shot victim in back pleads not guilty to murder

By Keith Coffman DENVER (Reuters) - A former police officer in a small Colorado farming town accused of fatally shooting a man in the back while on duty pleaded not guilty on Thursday to second-degree murder, authorities said. James Ashby, 32, is charged in the shooting death of 27-year-old Jack Jacquez last October in Rocky Ford, about 135 miles southeast of Denver. Ashby, who was fired from the Rocky Ford Police force following his arrest, is also charged with criminally negligent homicide and a violent crime resulting in death. Ashby pleaded not guilty to all three charges in Otero County District Court and remains free on a $150,000 bond, according to the clerk's office. An arrest warrant affidavit filed by an agent with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation said Ashby lied about the events leading up to the deadly encounter, and about the shooting itself. Ashby told investigators he was in his patrol car when he saw Jacquez riding his skateboard, and that when he asked him what he was doing, Jacquez replied with a profanity. But a citizen who was in Ashby's cruiser doing a "ride-along" at the time told detectives he only heard Jacquez say that he was going home. Ashby pursued Jacquez to the home he shared with his mother and followed him inside on foot, police said. Ashby told investigators he thought Jacquez was either trespassing or burglarizing the residence, and fired in self-defense after Jacquez came at him with a baseball bat inside the darkened house. Detectives who re-created the scene said there was enough ambient light emanating from the porch to conclude that Ashby was untruthful, the affidavit said. Jacquez likely was holding the bat but his back was turned to Ashby and he posed no threat to the officer, the affidavit said, adding that Ashby "aggressively pursued" Jacquez. Jacquez died from a single gunshot that entered his back, severed his spinal cord and passed through his heart and a lung, autopsy results showed. Otero County District Court Judge Mark MacDonnell set a three-week trial date in July and a two-day motions hearing on June 16 and 17, the clerk's office said. (Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)